A new level of openness and transparency

From 2016 onwards, all pharma companies operating in Europe will publish details of any transfer of value that occurs between a company and a health care professional or organisation, writes Aidan Lynch.

Aidan Lynch, General Manager of GSK Pharma Ireland
Aidan Lynch, General Manager of GSK Pharma Ireland

In the wake of practically every scandal to beset the health service or any other arm of public administration there is a pledge to introduce greater levels of openness and transparency. Openness and transparency are usually seen as the first steps towards building or restoring trust in an institution whether public or private. One of the most trusting relationships built throughout our lives is the one that exists between us the patient and the prescribing physician, be they the local GP or hospital consultant. As patients gain greater knowledge and insight into their medical conditions, they want to take a more active role in the management of their own conditions. They are more knowledgeable about treatments and want to know that they are being prescribed the best medicines based on the latest clinical data.

It is against this backdrop, that the pharma sector across Europe is embarking on a new initiative that is designed to bring a new level of transparency and openness to the way in which we work with health care professionals and health organisations. Following on from initiatives in the US and Australia, from 2016 onwards, all pharma companies operating in Europe will publish details of any transfer of value that occurs between a company and a health care professional (HCP) or organisation. Patients heavily rely on the recommendations of their doctors to make any kind of decision regarding their health and thus should have full awareness of payments between their doctors and the medical industry. Patients have a right to be informed about possible conflicts of interests. In the US the system of disclosure is underpinned in a piece of legislation called the Sunshine Act, which provided the framework for the first annual disclosures in February 2014 in respect of data captured in 2013.

In circumstances where a pharma company sponsors events within hospitals, the hospital will have to be mindful of the new rules regarding disclosure, as the hospital will be deemed to be a beneficiary.

This system of disclosure will come into effect in Ireland in 2016. However, because data published in 2016 will reflect data gathered in 2015, there is an immediate imperative to inform HCPs and the health system about the changes. GSK will go a step further than the disclosure requirements. We will no longer provide financial support to doctors to speak on our behalf about our medicines and vaccines nor provide direct financial support to attend conferences. This is a fundamental change to the way that we supported medical education in the past and some will link the changes to media coverage of charges of commercial malpractice in China and elsewhere. While there is no link to sales practices in China or anywhere else, those cases illustrate the potential conflict of interest that can arise from direct payments to clinicians.

The changes in respect of disclosure of transfer of value from the pharma sector to health professionals are also important from a hospital management perspective. In circumstances where a pharma company sponsors events within hospitals, the hospital will have to be mindful of the new rules regarding disclosure, as the hospital will be deemed to be a beneficiary.

The new system will pose challenges to all sides whether it be industry or clinicians. A bit like a new government taking up office, the intent is to deliver fully on the pledges. In this instance, the actions will have to match the commitments. The pharma industry must do everything it can to ensure that society believes that medicines are prescribed purely on efficacy. Disclosure around the transfer of value is an important step on that journey.

Aidan Lynch, VP and General Manager, GSK